3D Printing Business: Inside Jabil

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Often described as the biggest company you’ve never heard of, Jabil is a digital solutions provider working on a global scale. The company’s Blue Sky Innovation Centers offer a hub of activity with in-house facilities to create for and connect with customers. The Blue Sky Center in San Jose, California is home to an assortment of technological solutions — and I recently had the opportunity to visit, hearing more about the offerings from company executives during an analyst and media tour in Silicon Valley. ‎Vice President, Global Automation and 3D Printing John Dulchinos and Director of Digital Manufacturing Rush LaSelle discussed Jabil’s plans to drive additive manufacturing into industry.

Dulchinos, who has shared his insights with us regarding the future of industrial 3D printing on several occasions, presented a look into Jabil’s relationship with HP and the companies’ shared vision for bringing additive manufacturing into the wider manufacturing workstream.

“We have a 20-25 year relationship with HP as a supplier; for MJF, we reached out to HP because it’s HP,” Dulchinos said of the well-known company’s strength as a partner. “We are interested in additive manufacturing because it’s manufacturing, not just prototyping. Look where 3D printing is involved now, it’s a really small part of manufacturing. We are trying to create an ecosystem with a number of partners; that’s not a trivial thing to do.”

In keeping with that theme of partners in 3D printing, present at the Blue Sky Center were a number of 3D printers from a variety of manufacturers. In addition to Jet Fusion 3D printers from HP, I saw on-site 12 Ultimaker 3 machines, an Objet 260, a Form 2, and a WASP delta; the center additionally houses metal machines from EOS and will be getting technology from Carbon in.

Today, Jabil was also announced to be the first customer to lease a commercial DragonFly 2020 3D printer from Nano Dimension. This electronics 3D printer, which has been in beta for some time as it geared up toward commercial release now kicked off with Jabil, fits well into a strategy toward looking at 3D printing electronics mentioned on-site last week in San Jose.

“We have been investing in 3D printing sister technologies, including printed electronics to create solutions that don’t require a rigid circuit board,” Dulchinos said. “Electronics is in our future, but not as a circuit board — it will be integrated.”

3D printed functional parts created via MJF are happy to showcase their properties

Jabil is no stranger to early adoption of promising technologies they believe in, as demonstrated with their experience with HP. In May 2016, Dulchinos noted, Jabil had one of the first alpha machines outside of Barcelona, directly upon the technology’s public unveiling. That particular machine is now non-operational, but has been updated with production units.

“We put enormous effort into ensuring the quality of what we’re making,” Dulchinos said in Jabil’s 3D printing room. “3D printers are an enabler; 3D printing in many cases is not a full solution. We need that full end-to-end digital solution to be truly a customer solution.”

LaSalle continued, noting that manufacturers are a traditionally risk-averse lot. The two discussed the quality assurance programs in place at Jabil to compare and qualify manufacturing processes, including CT scanning to ensure dimensional stability of 3D printed parts. They walked us through some customer use cases, showcasing the way that design for additive manufacture (DfAM) has been changing the way that products can be created in an additive, rather than subtractive, way to optimize design and capitalize on the lightweighting and other benefits that 3D printing has become famous for offering. Dulchinos showed us a fixture for use in the shoe industry, while LaSalle pointed toward lightweighting being of primary concern in the automotive industry.

“There are three people who need to be convinced for conversion” to using additive manufacturing processes, Dulchinos explained of rising adoption. “R&D, manufacturing engineers, and the supply chain. Leaders in every industry are looking at 3D printing today. In most cases, what they want to know is how can they do what they’re doing today, but better. We are also seeing smaller, newer companies using 3D printing for a new application model; these small companies are looking to disrupt something.”

Looking specifically toward their partnership with HP, Dulchinos noted that that company’s open approach to the 3D printing industry is setting it apart in a big way. With the alliance with Deloitte announced during this time, HP and its partners are moving forward in the all-important ecosystem surrounding additive manufacturing as it takes its place in the larger manufacturing industry.

“Regarding HP, the least pull of the magnet was the technology itself; what was really powerful for us is that HP is an inclusive company,” Dulchinos said. “There had been a hoarding mentality — patents, proprietary closed ecosystems — that has constrained the industry. HP has taken an open approach, and that makes possible that move into manufacturing.”

Recent announcements are big and full of promise and ambition — but of course manufacturing won’t be transformed overnight. Manufacturing itself is a highly pragmatic industry, reliant upon real, provable solutions. The more 3D printing comes to prove itself out in use case after use case, offering real-world solutions beyond (but always including the all-important) prototyping process, the more we will see it be widely adopted.

“We’re at the bottom of the first in an extra-inning game,” Dulchinos said of adoption in Industry 4.0.

As everyone in the presentations at Jabil and HP last week were deeply involved in the additive manufacturing industry, he pointed out as well that there may be an informed over-enthusiasm at play. Optimism can run high among those familiar with the capabilities of 3D printing, though it as yet retains a very small slice of the $12 trillion manufacturing pie.

“We’re all going to overestimate how quickly this will impact manufacturing,” Dulchinos cautioned. “But when we look further out, it will be monumental. We’ll all be super excited, and we have major investment around the world.”

Is 3D printing set to truly take on a multi-trillion dollar global industry today? Definitely not. But will it have an increasing impact? Thanks to the efforts of global powerhouses like Jabil, Deloitte, and HP, with true technological innovation — the outlook is strong indeed.

[All photos: Sarah Goehrke]


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